The Novel of Metropolis

Apr 03 2009

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I’ve been reading Thea von Harbou’s Metropolis, her novelization based on the original script she wrote with Fritz Lang. It was published before the movie was even completed, so this is their original vision.

I’m stunned. This is like Ray Bradbury at his best. The characters are memorable, the plot leaps forward like the best SF, the dialogue fills one with emotion. This is top-notch work. I’d love to know who translated it.

Here’s a brief excerpt:

He had entered the cathedral as a child, not pious, yet not entirely free from shyness—prepared for reverence, but fearless. He heard, as his mother, the Kyrie Eleison of the stones and the Te Deum Laudamus—the De Profundis and the Jubilate. And he heard, as his mother, how the powerfully ringing stone chair was crowned by the Amen of the cross vault….

He looked for Maria, who was to have waited for him on the belfry steps; but he could not find her. He wandered through the cathedral, which seemed to be quite empty of people. Once he stopped. He was standing opposite Death.

The ghostly minstrel stood in a side-niche, carved in wood, in hat and wide cloak, scythe on shoulder, the hour-glass dangling from his girdle; and the minstrel was playing on a bone as though on a flute. The Seven Deadly Sins were his following.

Freder looked Death in the face. Then he said:

“If you had come earlier you would not have frightened me….Now I pray you: Keep away from me and my beloved!”

But the awful flute-player seemed to be listening to nothing but the song he was playing upon a bone.

This is not the best of it, because the novel uses repetition to drive its points home. You’re reminded of past images and sequences, and the memory fills you with dread.

It may well be better than the movie, and I think the movie’s one of the top 5 SF films made before Star Wars.

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